I enjoyed my time in the leveling Battleground brackets with Cynwise. I call them leveling brackets now, but back then they were just the non-endgame brackets, the place where people would go to let off steam and grind some Marks of Honor. Since you didn’t gain any experience points in them, your characters could stay in a bracket indefinitely just by sticking around a major city and not going anywhere.
Your character may not have gained experience, but you, the player, certainly would. You’d meet the same characters over and over again, both on your team and on the other side. Having a smaller, more stable PvP population meant that you would get to know your fellow players. Not well, mind you. But you’d chat about how the other BGs were playing, get a sense for people’s strengths and weaknesses, and even find enemies you’d enjoy facing – even if it’s because you wanted to settle a score. When people would level out of a bracket (always in Alterac Valley) there would be congrats and farewells.
There was one troll rogue in particular – Waternoose from Stormrage, though I can’t find him in the armory to be sure of the spelling – that bedeviled me throughout the 69 bracket. He would make it a point to come and gank me at least once every battle, and I would make it a point to Fear him around whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was a lot of fun zoning in and going, oh crap, it’s Waternoose. Other clothies had similar opinions of him.
Once you get to the endgame the population swells, and it’s harder to get to know people. It’s also harder to form a sense of community in the leveling brackets, as players move through the levels so quickly that you have maybe a few days to get to know fellow battleground enthusiasts, if that. From what I’ve seen the twink brackets are the place with the strongest sense of community and player recognition – several times in the past few days I’ve gotten detailed precis of opponent’s behaviors in /bg chat. (Like, spooky awareness of player behavior – “he’s losing, he’s going to /afk… the he goes.”)
I bring up these old war stories because they highlight a problem in battlegrounds and, to a lesser extent, the Dungeon Finder tool. Communities are built through repeated personal contact. The changes to battlegrounds in Wrath have increased convenience (and therefore appeal) but lessened the sense of community. If battlegrounds go cross-battlegroup in Cataclysm, thereby massively expanding the pool of available servers each BG pulls from, it could all go out the window.
But it doesn’t have to.
THE PROBLEM OF SERVERS
The biggest problem is crossing servers; there’s no way to talk to people that you’ve just worked with in a battleground or dungeon run unless you use RealID. You can’t add them to your /friend list, because the list doesn’t work that way.
I read an interview with Ghostcrawler where he pointed out this was one of the biggest challenges of Warcraft – you meet someone at a social gathering, discover you both play WoW, and then discover you play on different servers. Bummer. You can’t play together.
RealID is a step towards solving this, a bit. You could exchange IDs and at least talk to each other, if not actually play together. But you couldn’t raid together, or queue up for a BG together.
Earlier this week I was talking smack to @morkuma on Twitter, and since we’re in the same battlegroup but play different factions, we decided we were going to try to face each other in a BG. We tried for almost two hours to get into the same battleground but couldn’t. Even something like Alterac Valley, with long queue times, was impossible to coordinate. It was really frustrating to want to face someone in friendly competition but to be completely unable to make it happen.
The worst part was realizing I could /ignore Morkuma and the system would prevent me from ever grouping with him, but I couldn’t /friend him to get a matchup.
/FRIEND, /FOE, AND /IGNORE
What we need is a better way to manage who we group with in the randomizer. Both the Dungeon Finder and the BG Finder work in fairly similar ways: you can join by yourself, or as part of a party, or as a complete party. You have control over who you don’t want to group with cross server through the /ignore command, and control over who you group with on your server with your party.
What we need is an inverted /ignore command for your friends … and your enemies. Here’s how I see it working.
- Expand your /friends list to include cross-server friends. There doesn’t need to be any RealID-like functionality added here – you don’t need visibility to see if they’re on. This is just to set up a list for use in the queues later.
- Create a /foe command to ‘friend’ characters from the other faction. Again, this is just building a list.
- Add a “Friends and Foes” checkbox to your queue. When checked, this would check your /friends and /foes and see if any of them are in queue, too. If they are, you’re treated as tagalong to their invite and the system attempts to put you into the same battleground. If not, you get a small delay added to your queue to allow your friends to queue up too – and then you’re placed as normal, with a warning that no F&F are available in this instance.
You can think of this as giving you priority to certain random which contain /friends and /foes, without guaranteeing a spot in them.
The idea here is to try to group you with your Friends and Foes before inserting you into a normal queue. This isn’t as easy as it sounds; the queue will need to take into account that the target may be in normal mode, and should queue as quickly as possible, while you are in F&F mode, where you’d prefer to wait to queue with a friend (up to a point). There’s also the question of delay: do you look just at the people queued for battlegrounds right now, or poll them periodically for 2 minutes to see if someone joins?
Perhaps one solution is that if you have mutual /friends (or mutual /foes) then you’re treated as a single unit within the queue, and placed only in battlegrounds that have space available on both sides. If it’s one-sided, however, then the placement delay kicks in.
I look at this as a nontrivial problem that appears trivial to outside communities. There are a lot of complicated use-cases that the queuing system needs to account for, and the inner workings of their logic may make this well-nigh impossible to do.
But it would increase the fun of the game. Playing with friends on the Internet is what this game is about; removing the server restriction would be worth it.
STALKERS AND GRIEFERS
As I was mulling the /foe idea over in my head, eventually I settled on one main problem – griefers. I enjoyed my fights with Waternoose, but he won an awful lot of them. What if he’d chosen me as his /foe, but then kept singling me out for camping? And what if this behavior carries on beyond the battlegrounds and dungeons of Azeroth? This isn’t like following someone on Twitter; you can actively ruin someone’s fun by griefing them.
The best solution I came up with is to have /ignore work cross faction, and /ignore trump everything else. As soon as I realize someone is deliberately trying to ruin my gameplay, click ignore and I never see them again. Done.
(Making /ignore account-wide would be awesome, by the way.)
Ultimately, the possibility of abuse is the biggest concern I have with Friends and Foes queuing. It could lend itself to some bad behavior in the battlegrounds as well as the dungeons. Imagine trying to queue as a tank but getting healers all from the same guild on a different server, all who refuse to heal you? All because you vote kicked one of their guildies?
REAL ID TO THE RESCUE?
Perhaps this is where RealID comes into play again. The whole idea behind RealID is to allow you to connect to real-world friends, to have control over who friends you – and who doesn’t.
There’s something to be said for adding an additional layer of personal contact to the random queues. If I know someone outside of the game – met them at a party on Ghostcrawler’s yacht, got challenged to a duel on Twitter, etc – then I presumably have a way to exchange information to set up RealID outside of the game with that person. Easy enough to do, and easy enough to set up.
But what about the people you casually meet in the BGs and LFDs of this world? The ones where you’d like to PvP or run a heroic with them again, but don’t really want them to know all about you? There’s a gap here that the systems don’t really fit. Either you’re close, or you’re completely isolated. Where’s the middle ground?
The battleground communities that existed when I was leveling Cynwise still exist. They’re out there. You’ll strike up a conversation in the flag room during preparation, or maybe tell a joke while guarding a flag in Arathi Basin, or find some really inspiring leaders in the Isle of Conquest. It’s just hard to find them, and harder to keep them going when you do find them. Removing battlegroups will make it even harder, as the sheer number of people will make it increasingly likely you will never see any of those people you spent 20 epic minutes with ever again.
And that’s sad. It’s not fun.
This isn’t a simple problem for Blizzard to solve. I know it’s not. While I, personally, would like the ability to create an ad hoc community of my own to PvP within, there are some serious, viable concerns with how it could be implemented. There’s the rub.
(Though, seriously, Blizzard: consider account-wide /ignore lists as a start. Please?)